July 16 – 24, 2007
Stranraer – Glasgow – Edinburgh (Scotland) – Newcastle (England)
Bagpipes and kilts, haggis and whiskey, castles and Loughs, shortbread and cream teas: These are probably what come to mind when you think of this Celtic nation. And they are certainly all there!
After a 1½ hour ferry from Belfast we arrived in Stranraer. We took the coastal route north as far as Irvine and enjoyed spectacular views of cliffs, islands and beaches with grazing sheep completing the picture.
Of course, Scotland wouldn’t be Scotland without its numerous castles scattered along the coastline. We visited Culzean castle and its beautiful walled gardens, where the giant rhubarb-like leaves reminded us a lot of Patagonia.
Scotland has a wonderful bicycle route network with great wild-camping opportunities along canals and in the forests. We followed an old railway line into Glasgow where loads of cyclists stopped for a chat and told us about pit-stops ahead. It was very pleasant cycling. Deer, herons, swans and ducks popped up every now and again on a very colourful wildflower-decked trail.
Glasgow, having earned a bad reputation from soccer hooligans, was a positive surprise for us. It is now a booming shopping city with a pleasant mix of old and new buildings. This vibrant cosmopolitan centre is full of spacious plazas filled with monuments commemorating famous Scots throughout the ages.
The bicycle route to Edinburgh follows the Forth & Clyde canal to the ingenious Falkirk wheel. There, barges and boats are lifted and rotated up to the Union canal to continue their journey to the capital.
The bicycle route follows this canal having crossed under the Antonine wall built by the Romans in 142 AD to keep the Scots out. We pushed against the wind all day in real wintry weather, but at least we stayed dry.
Darina’s friend Pam, from her time in Australia, had a great welcome for us on her home ground. 11 years is a long time to catch up on…but we didn’t do too badly at all!
On the agenda was a literary pub crawl of Edinburgh, where we retraced the steps and watering holes of many of Scotland’s greats including R.L. Stevenson, Sir Walter Scot, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Burns, Ian Rankin etc. Kurt took great delight in relieving himself on the same marble wall as the author of Treasure Island himself!
It happened to be the night the last Harry Potter book was launched and queues of J.K. Rowling fans didn’t let the bitter wind disturb their festive spirit. Even Japanese had flown all the way to visit the city where Harry Potter was created.
It’s easy to while away the hours on the royal mile, between Edinburgh castle and the royal Hollyrood Palace, lined with all the Tartans you ever wanted, including tartan wellies!
A special treat for the girls was the Bryan Adams concert in Murrayfield stadium. The persistent rain resulted in a small crowd, lots of brollies and the man himself at arms length. And boy was that a sight!
Our week in Scotland was just enough to give us a taste of this bicycle-friendly land.
Although we only visited the lowlands, we would certainly love to return to check out the highlands some warm and sunny summer!
Our 2-day cycle in England hardly counts as a representative tour, but we had a ferry to catch in Newcastle… We followed the castles and coastal route enjoying beautiful views, quiet trails and a rather expensive but charming B&B.
Then it was time to cross the waters again back to the continent. Our overnight ferry to Amsterdam was good value at 100€/person in a double cabin en suite.